Washington, D.C. Mormon Temple – Kensington, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

Washington, D.C. Mormon Temple

The tallest Mormon temple in the world soars above the Beltway. 


Mormon temples are known for their splendor and beauty, and few rival the temple in Washington, D.C. It is the third-largest Mormon temple in the world by square footage, as well as being the tallest. Located adjacent to the Capital Beltway, the massive temple is well known to the thousands of drivers who pass by the towering spires on their daily commute.

The temple was first opened in November of 1974, as the Washington Temple. While it is currently known as the Washington, D.C. Temple, it is actually located north of the city in the suburb of Kensington, Maryland. At the time of its construction it was the only Mormon temple in the entire eastern United States, and the first one built east of the Mississippi River since 1846. 

Like many Mormon temples, the Washington, D.C. Temple is surrounded by soaring spires, with three to the east and three to the west representing the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods, respectively. The Aaronic priesthood is the lesser of the two recognized priesthoods of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is mostly made up of men ages 12 through 18. The Melchizedek priesthood (or high priesthood) is the core priesthood of the Mormons, and is entirely made up of adult men.

The towers are in ascending height order, with the shortest on the west and the tallest on the east. The central eastern tower reaches a height of 288 feet, making the temple the tallest in the world. On its top is a statue of the angel Moroni, weighing in at 2 tons and standing 18 feet tall. Mormons believe Moroni was the angel that appeared to Joseph Smith with the golden plates that became the basis of the Book of Mormon. The architectural style is inspired by the famous Salt Lake City Temple, one of the most important temples to all Mormons.

The Washington, D.C. Temple itself is closed to visitors, and is only open to those members of the church who are deemed “worthy” to attend, as the visitor’s center will kindly inform you. Worthiness is determined by a worthiness interview, which addresses the applicant’s relationship with their family and God, amongst other things. There is, however, a visitor center, where guests can look at the church itself as well as a small-scale replica. Additionally, once a year, thousands come to see the church’s Festival of Lights, which runs from December 2nd up to January 1st.

Update as of September 2019: The temple is undergoing major renovations and is expected to reopen sometime in 2020. 

Know Before You Go

The temple can be reached through the Beltway using exit 33 north, and is also a short shuttle ride from the Metro Red Line's Forest Glen Station. The visitor's center is free, and is open from 10 am to 9 pm daily.

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